A Guide To Charter Bush Flights
The charter bush planes vary from rather small aircrafts like a Cessna206 to bigger planes such as the KingAir350. On special requests, even bigger planes can be chartered. However, not all bush airstrips can be approached by these bigger planes, as some runways are not long enough to guarantee a secure landing. Therefore most bush charter companies have a selection of Cessna, King Air, Pipers and Beech. The planes have only limited seats available for mainly a maximum of 9 passengers– excluding the pilot.
The cockpit is not spatially divided from the passenger area and there is no steward/stewardess. It is your pilot who guides you through the rather short flight which can be anything from 20 minutes up to 2 hours, depending on your destination. If you are lucky, you might even have the chance to sit in the seat next to the pilot!
The pilot welcomes you and makes sure your luggage is securely stored in a separate compound under the passengers’ seats. Your pilot has the freedom to allocate the passengers in the aircraft to make sure that the weight is balanced. These are security measures, we urge you to follow the instructions! The pilot also checks if you are well seated and that you have fastened your seatbelts. Then he does the fully comprehensive safety talk, please pay attention. During the flight, your pilot gives you updates on where you are and points out attractive land marks, wildlife and other things of interest.
Airstrip & Landing
Bush airstrips are very unique. The pilot needs a special training because the bush flying and landing bears other challenges than international airports. Animals might be on the runway, the strip conditions vary enormously during the different seasons – from wet grass to bumpy sand – and the African heat as well as the heavy rains are daily challenges to the pilots. Most bush camps have their own airstrip and they are in charge for maintaining it and keeping it safe for landing.
Once you reach your destination, your pilot helps you embark. Your guide already awaits you and takes you on a game drive to the camp. It can be quite a distance to your safari accommodation to ensure that the guests are not disturbed by the noise of the planes.
Luggage Weight, Type & Size Limits
On light aircraft transfers there is a 10 to 20kg weight limit on luggage per person. The restriction depends on the charter company and destination. Please note that the weight limit includes hand luggage, any cameras, camera bags and associated equipment. This is for safety and space reasons.
No hard suitcases or bags with wheels can be transported in the small bush planes: they physically cannot fit into the aircraft. Therefore we insist on a soft carry-on bag (instead of a suitcase) with the following maximum dimensions: 25cm (10 inches) wide x 30cm (12 inches) high and 62cm (24 inches) long.
If it is necessary to bring extra baggage, we can usually ‘sell’ you an extra seat, allowing you to bring an additional 70kg (154lbs). The cost of this extra seat varies depending on your safari and we need to know and organise it in advance.
The luggage limit is taken very seriously by charter companies. Additional luggage can result in an extra aircraft being used and charter companies reserve the right to charge accordingly.
Image by Safari Destinations
Course of Action
The travel procedure is slightly different from international flights as well. When you confirm your safari, we book your charter flight and receive a booking confirmation. However, you do not get a boarding pass or ticket and your departure times are not set by then. Instead, you will be given notice of your flying times 24 hours prior to departure by the manager of your safari accommodation.
The reason for this is that the charter company schedules the flights according to the number of clients and the air routes they have to facilitate on this particular day. So your flight between the safari camps can be anytime throughout the day. The camps work out your safari schedule accordingly – to make the most of your valuable time on safari. If you insist on flying at a particular time it can most certainly be arranged. But this will mean the hire of a private charter plane.
However, for your connection with scheduled international flights and transfers, the charter companies adjust the charter flights accordingly. Coming from an international flight your connecting charter flight will immediately take you to your safari camp. Same if you have to catch a scheduled international flight coming from the bush: your charter transfer is well in time for your international check in.
As the planes are very small, there won’t be many other passengers. However, the charter flight might not be a direct flight: there might be several stops before you reach your safari destination of choice. Eventually other passengers are picked up or dropped off along the way – flying from camp to camp. These stopovers are great opportunities to take a closer look at the many destinations within the southern African bush – check out where you want to go on your next safari.
When travelling in southern Africa, charter bush planes are a common means of transport to get around. It is the fastest and most comfortable way to travel from one place to another.
By Miriam Reiter & Monika Korn, The Safari Source, November 2015